Medical News Today has an article about how pharmaceutical advertising relies on appeals to consumer’s emotions rather than on providing information…Although most of the advertising did make some factual claim (82%), or offered a rational argument for using the product (86%), almost all of the ads (95% according to the article) utilized some type of emotional appeal to sway consumers. It’s also interesting that an analysis of the ads found the appeals were framed in one of two ways; gain or loss of control over some aspect of the patient’s life.
From the article:
The ads often framed medication use in terms of losing (58%) and regaining control (85%) over some aspect of life… The use of emotional appeals may sway consumers in favor of a product and prompt viewers to discount information about risks and benefits that is important when considering medication use.
The study was applied to advertising meant for consumers, rather than physicians. People often ask doctors specifically for medications that they’ve seen advertised on television, largely due to emotional appeals. The idea that medical decisions are often based largely on marketing rather than on sound medical information is somewhat disturbing, given the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, but not at all surprising, given that most of our decisions are based on emotional affect.
Like the study authors, I have no problem with pharmaceutical companies communicating information directly to consumers about their products. But I do question whether the tactics used to sell consumer products (that represent relatively low risks) should be used to sell highly potent pharmaceuticals (that have potentially large health risks) to uninformed consumers.
The study authors feel that pharmaceutical companies should adhere to the same standards and ethics as the medical profession. However, people from marketing agencies working with these companies are not required to take a Hippocratic Oath, at least not as far as I’m aware. The marketers are simply doing their jobs. So who is ultimately responsible? Thoughts?